National Geographic : 2004 Mar
TALLADEGA, ALABAMA After touring the South as a professional singer ("Music at blind schools," he says, "is like football everywhere else"), he returned to Talladega for a job at Alabama Industries for the Blind, the institute's workshop. Now he helps manage the place, which is the second largest employer in Talla dega County. Workers here sew almost a million neckties a year, among other items, supplying every neck in the United States military. They also make mops, brooms, cleaning brushes, notebook paper and easel pads, toner cartridges, and American flags. Alabama Industries provides jobs for more than 300 Talladegans, most of them blind or deaf. "Everybody needs work to do," Norman says. "We'll modify our machines, we'll do whatever it takes, to make it possible for people to earn a living." The institute began with its School for the Deaf, founded in 1858 by J. H. Johnson, a young physician inspired by Thomas Gallaudet's pio neering work educating the deaf. Johnson bought a vacant building in Talladega and turned it into a school with a grant from the Alabama State Legislature, which still provides most of AIDB's funding. Within a year 21 deaf children, including Johnson's own younger brother, were enrolled. In 1867 the School for the Blind was started. A third academy, for chil dren who are both deaf and blind, opened in 1955. Now known as the Helen Keller School, it also serves children who have additional disabil ities, including autism and cerebral palsy. Today there are about twice as many students at the School for the Deaf than at the School for the Blind, the institute's two largest academies. Role-playing In classes at the School for the Deaf helps young Tabitha Spurling (below) build vocabulary. Off campus (bottom), deaf alumni socialize using American Sign Language, which Is taught at the school.